It’s about 45 degrees celsius, the generator is sending fumes into Islamabad’s cloudless sky and 20 people are lifting their legs in unison, sweating profusely.
“Tap, tap, lift, lower,” a voice echoes through the house, making sure the keen exercisers are keeping their form strong and guiding them through all the core muscle conditioning movements to some funky tunes.
Instructor Alessandra Bessler moved from New York to the Pakistani capital in August 2009, with the intention to source manufacturers for her active-wear clothing collection, focusing on eco-friendly production.
Having also taught in the fitness industry for over 15 years, she quickly recognised the lack of opportunity to exercise in Islamabad. So she ran out, scoured the city for mats, weights and exercise balls and set up a small, improvised fitness studio in her home.
“I had no clue what this class would lead to when I first started and, as the classes grew quickly, I soon gave up the idea of having a living room,” Bessler told swissinfo.ch.
The first class had about three takers. However, word spread quickly and in the end Bessler had dozens more crammed into her home looking to get fit.
Bursting at the seams
“Our living room was bursting at the seams at times and it happened that some of the exercisers had to practise their moves in the hallway or underneath the stairs,” she said.
A few months after it was set up, “Core Fit” had become almost a religion for Islamabad residents –Pakistanis, expatriates, men and women.
“The fact that Alessandra got people to work out in Islamabad, where many expats are very restricted due to security reasons, was a huge achievement,” said Ali Mehdi, a regular taker of the tough one-hour class.
“Being a Pakistani man, I was very sceptical when I first joined. But seeing that everyone was doing it, made me continue.” Ali and his wife, Danish, hardly ever missed a class and after a few months they even got their 14-year-old daughter Mahaam to join them on the mat.
Based on the popular body conditioning routine, Pilates, Bessler’s core class is a fitness experience that improves body tone and energy.
“You learn how to utilise your own body weight as resistance, use standing leg and gluteus [muscle] work for alignment and posture, and do floor work for core and spinal strength. Each class includes sports conditioning and injury prevention. Everyone can do it and you need very little equipment,” Bessler said, explaining the philosophy behind her teaching.
“Exercising is still a new notion for many Pakistanis and compared with Europeans, we still need to catch up. Alessandra’s classes made us realise that sport is good for the mind and body. She is great at motivating people,” Danish said.
But all good things come to an end, and when her active-wear clothing collection was completed this summer she moved back to Switzerland with her husband.
Bessler’s departure from Pakistan left a hole in the lives of many people, although before she left she produced a DVD for the Islamabad core community.
“We are missing her a lot as it just needs someone like Alessandra to keep a group like this together. Doing core exercise is just not the same without her,” Mehdi said.
“It’s great to have Alessandra in my living room telling me to tap my knees even though she is now far away in Switzerland,” said Rosemary Willey-Al’Sanah, who works for the United Nations Office for the Coordination (OCHA) in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar and joined Bessler’s classes whenever work took her to the capital.
“Core became a very important part of my life in Pakistan as the security situation in the country, especially in Peshawar, normally does not allow us to exercise much.”
Now settling into life in Lausanne, Bessler is aiming to fill a niche in the Swiss market with her eco-friendly collection, called AMB Design, which features leggings, bootcut pants, tank and racer back tops.
And just as in Pakistan, she is trying to set up another core community in Lausanne, having already taught her first class in her living room. “It was almost like déjà vu,” she said.
Alessandra Bessler has been active in dance and competitive sports since childhood. Her connection to dance, movement and physical challenge attracted her 15 years ago to the Lotte Berk Method, and later to Core Fusion, which she taught in Connecticut and New York.
After moving to Islamabad, Pakistan in 2009, she developed and created CORE Fit and Flow. Two years after her home studio opened, she established a class schedule, which was attended by more than 150 people a week.
In parallel, since 2009, she has developed and created an eco-friendly activewear clothing collection called AMB Design LLC. With production in the Far East and Pakistan she is currently exporting to North America and entering the European market.end of infobox